Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Teaching by Questioning for the Common Core

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”
Socrates (470-399 B.C.) 
I like this quote attributed to Socrates, whether he said it or not - and I agree that the brains of our students are not empty vessels that we teachers are to fill from our vast store of knowledge.

From most accounts, Socrates did believe in and practice questioning as a means of teaching and learning. While students may find it easier to be given facts that they can regurgitate on paper-and-pencil tests, Rebecca Alber, in her Edutopia article "When Teaching the Right Answers Is the Wrong Direction" says, "...students are all too often on a quest for the Correct Answers, which has little to do with critical-thinking development..." 

Critical thinking, citing evidence, rigor and relevance...if you, like most U.S. teachers, are implementing the Common Core State Standards, you must incorporate skillful questioning in your teaching strategies.

Here's good information, paraphrased from the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College in Minnesota on How to Use the Socratic Method in the Classroom:

  • Plan significant questions that provide structure and direction to the lesson.
  • Phrase questions clearly.
  • Wait at least 5 to 10 seconds for students to respond.
  • Keep the discussion focused.
  • Stimulate the discussion with probing questions.
  • Periodically summarize what has been discussed, on board or projector.
  • Draw as many students as possible into the discussion.
Remind students that they are expected to do the following:

  • Participate when called upon.
  • Answer questions as carefully and clearly as possible.
  • Address the whole class so that everyone can hear their answers.
For more information, LEARN NC includes an article by Heather Coffey on the history and theory of the Socratic method of teaching, with directions for conducting Socratic circles and seminars.

Finally, for a no-holds-barred article on why questioning is the way to critical thinking and therefore understanding, read "The Role of Questions in Teaching, Thinking and Learning" from The Critical Thinking Community:
Questions of purpose force us to define our task. 
Questions of information force us to look at our sources of information as well as at the quality of our information.
Questions of interpretation force us to examine how we are organizing or giving meaning to information. 
Questions of assumption force us to examine what we are taking for granted. 
Questions of implication force us to follow out where our thinking is going. 
Questions of point of view force us to examine our point of view and to consider other relevant points of view.
Questions of relevance force us to discriminate what does and what does not bear on a question. 
Questions of accuracy force us to evaluate and test for truth and correctness. 
Questions of precision force us to give details and be specific. 
Questions of consistency force us to examine our thinking for contradictions. 
Questions of logic force us to consider how we are putting the whole of our thought together, to make sure that it all adds up and makes sense within a reasonable system of some kind.

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